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This year we took our annual slugfest to the pub underneath our new office and came up with a list of the year's top 100 books that could be our best ever. It wasn't any easier with a drink in hand to pick, and agree upon, the best books of 2010, but we did it. And, as a magazine that's published continuously since 1872 and reviews over 7,000 books a year, we had a lot to consider. The women are back... strong... and we're all over the globe. Before the full list hits in Monday's issue, here's a peek at our top 10. So who made the cut? There's Franzen mining the American family for his canvas; Egan, the music industry; Hillenbrand, Louis Zamperini, a hero from our greatest generation; Lee, the Korean War; Skloot, one African-American woman's experience with medical research in the days of segregation; Wilkerson, the great African-American migration; Udall, a lonely Mormon polygamist; Spencer, a very American moral dilemma; Lewis, our financial crash of 2008; and, of course, Patti Smith- rock and roll idol, whose literary gifts match her musical talent-delved into New York City's in the '60s and '70s and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe.

Click the genre tabs above to view our picks in each genre, and click "View As List" between the Previous and Next buttons within each genre to see it as a list.

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad

    Jennifer Egan (Knopf)

    Egan's a daunting stylist, and she's in blistering form for these interlocking narratives about the milieu surrounding an aging and waning music producer. Essentially, it's a story about getting mugged by the passage of time, and along the way she interrogates how rebellion ages, influence corrupts, habits turn to addictions, and lifelong friendships fluctuate. You also might know this as the novel that has a chapter written in PowerPoint. Egan: unpredictable and, here, brilliant.

  • American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

    Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell (Simon & Schuster)

    In a sweeping analysis, Harvard political scientist Putnam and his colleague Campbell measure America's religious landscape. Among their findings: America is a religiously diverse and-contra the currently popular perception-religiously tolerant nation.

  • Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith

    Stephanie Saldaña (Doubleday)

    This gorgeously memoir set in Damascus combines political tension, passion, and spiritual seeking, a timeless blend that offers spiritual sustenance.

  • Hillel: If Not Now, When?

    Joseph Telushkin (Nextbook-Schocken)

    The multitalented Telushkin is the right author to convey the wisdom of the man who could distill the ethical wisdom of the Torah in a single maxim.

  • Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference

    Desmond M. Tutu and Mpho A. Tutu (HarperOne)

    The South African religious leader retired from public life this year, and this book, written with his daughter, is a lovely swan song in a life of faith that has prevailed in the face of the enormity of evil, faith learned as a child and strengthened through love, sacrifice, and failure.

  • Food Matters Cookbook: Lose Weight and Heal the Planet with More than 500 Recipes

    Mark Bittman (Simon & Schuster)

    New York Times columnist Bittman provides a rational approach to eating that not only improves health but helps the environment as well.

  • The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual

    Falcinelli, Castronovo, Meehan (Artisan)

    It is surprising to learn that Castronovo and Falcinelli, as they are pulling off a 20-something hipster vibe these days, are also lighting up Brooklyn with their restaurants. They have created a tribute to red sauce dining, bound in an embossed, gilded, faux-leather cover.

  • Around My French Table

    Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    This inviting French cookbook, written from an American in Paris perspective, has all the classics plus unusual dishes, inspired by Vietnam and other cultures.

  • One Big Table: 800 Recipes from the Nation's Best Home Cooks, Farmers, Pit-Masters and Chefs

    Molly O'Neil (Simon & Schuster)

    O'Neill, former New York Times Magazine food writer and author, has compiled an informative and touching refutation of the demise of American home cooking.

  • Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives

    Annie Murphy Paul (Free Press)

    Science writer Paul segues between ponderings about her own second pregnancy and the developing literature on fetal origins in this fascinating study of the prenatal period. Paul's thought-provoking text reveals that this pivotal period may be even more significant and far-reaching than imagined.

  • In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart

    Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter)

    Waters, restaurateur and culinary force of nature, showcases basic cooking techniques every cook can and should master.

  • The Warmth of Other Suns

    Isabel Wilkerson (Random House)

    Wilkerson's sprawling study of the flight of six million blacks from the humiliation of Jim Crow to uncertain destinies in the American North and West is expansive in scope, pointillist in focus, and a triumph of scholarship and empathy. Anchoring her narrative in the suspenseful stories of three who made the journey, Wilkerson humanizes the migration that reshaped American demographics, art, and politics.

  • Shark vs. Train

    Chris Barton, illus. by Tom Lichtenheld (Little, Brown)

    This is one of those elementally brilliant ideas that evokes a "Why didn't I think of that?" response. By pitting a cartoon train and shark against each other in a series of increasingly ludicrous challenges (the train's heft is a liability in a hot air balloon race, but very effective on a seesaw), Barton and Lichtenheld tap into kids' innate ability to turn anything, anything into a competition.

  • There's Going to Be a Baby

    Burningham illus. by Oxenbury (Candlewick)

    Though they're married, this is the first collaboration between these two children's book icons, and it's a marvelous one: a dynamic and realistic exchange between a mother and her son as they await the arrival of a new family member. The soon-to-be big brother's insecurities and nervousness emerge through their conversations, yet Oxenbury's crisp ink vignettes make it clear that their tender bond will be in no way threatened by the imminent addition.

  • Farm

    Elisha Cooper (Scholastic/Orchard)

    At a time when the farm-to-table movement has never been stronger, Cooper's understated and unromantic portrait of farm life is especially resonant. He pairs breathtaking watercolor panoramas, which portray endless expanses of farmland, with matter-of-fact prose that takes readers through a year of planting, caring for crops and animals, harvesting, and preparing to begin the cycle once again.

  • The Boss Baby

    Marla Frazee (S&S/Beach Lane)

    "From the moment the baby arrived, it was obvious he was the boss." Frazee takes a sublime metaphor for the havoc that a baby can wreak, and runs with it; new parents and siblings will be laughing every step of the way (most likely through exhausted tears). Those who question whether child care is a full-time job, "with no time off," will quickly have their answer.

  • Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring

    Greenberg and Jordan, illus. Floca (Roaring Brook/Flash Point/Porter)

    Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan, illus. by Brian Floca (Roaring Brook/Flash Point/Porter) An inspired vehicle to demonstrate the dividends that collaboration can pay, this story of the making of the classic American ballet, Appalachian Spring, is both accessible and fascinating. Greenberg, Jordan, and Floca are as in synch as were their subjects—Graham, Copland, and Noguchi—building on each other's contributions to craft a memorable tribute to creative power.

  • The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy)

    Kerley, illus. by Fotheringham (Scholastic Press)

    Based on the 130-page biography of Twain that his 13-year-old daughter Susy wrote, Kerley's superb study of Twain's life presents aspects of the writer seldom seen, as Susy describes his "fine" and "not-so-fine" qualities alike ("Papa uses very strong language"). Fotheringham's visual flourishes, as well as the inclusion of "journal" booklets of Susy's writing, complete this entertaining behind-the-scenes account.

  • Bunny Days

    Tao Nyeu (Dial)

    This trio of stories is as silly as it is subversive, as a group of hapless bunnies have unfortunate run-ins with mud, a vacuum cleaner, and a pair of scissors. Despite the shock of seeing "bunnies without tails and tails without bunnies," Nyeu's cartoon world is always comforting and warm. In each instance, Bear is able to set things right thanks to a washing machine, fan, and sewing machine, so that in the end, "Everyone is happy."

  • The Chicken Thief

    Béatrice Rodriguez (Enchanted Lion)

    Wordless books are all about the details, and so it is with Rodriguez's debut, a story that appears straightforward (fox steals chicken; rooster and co. give chase), yet is anything but. Rodriguez's cartoons convey much emotion, and in so doing reveal that the fox's intentions are in no way malicious. Unexpected moments of romance, humor, and heartbreak add to a story that could be told in 1,000 words, but doesn't even need one.

  • Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature's Survivors

    Joyce Sidman, illus. by Beckie Prange (Harcourt)

    While many animal books try to top each other by highlighting progressively obscure creatures, Sidman and Prange take another tack with this absorbing study of species that have stood the test of time (think millennia). Covering bacteria, mollusks, and (much) later humans, Sidman writes affectionate poems about the various animals; paired with factual information and Prange's graceful linocuts, it's an expert fusion of art and science.

  • Mirror, Mirror: A Book of Reversible Verse

    Marilyn Singer, illus. by Josée Masse (Dutton)

    Singer and Masse are in perfect step with this clever and highly original collection of "reverso" poems (a form Singer developed), which can be read forward or backward—with significant impact on the fairy tale featured in each one. Masse plays with symmetry and dueling perspectives just as much as Singer does, giving the project a thematic cohesiveness and challenging readers to look at classic stories in an entirely new way.

  • It's a Book

    Lane Smith (Roaring Brook)

    Via a hilarious conversation between a technophile and a booklover, Smith delivers a pitch-perfect and timely ode to the tenuous relationship between printed words and those that appear on-screen. Smith's message is as much for parents as it is for kids, yet children will readily recognize the absurdity of, say, trying to translate Treasure Island to textspeak. And in case Smith's stance isn't clear: this one's not available as an e-book.

  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee

    Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook/Porter)

    What goes around comes around, in the best possible way, in this story of a zookeeper who gently tends to the animals in his care (playing chess with the elephant, reading stories to an owl), then gets similar treatment when he falls ill. As depicted in Erin Stead's delicate and precise illustrations, the friendship is made all the more poignant by inclusion of an elderly protagonist, an underrepresented demographic in picture books.

  • The Quiet Book

    Underwood, illus. by Liwska (Houghton Mifflin)

    To turn a concept as intangible as "quiet" into a full-length picture book is ambitious, but Underwood and Liwska nail it with a collaboration that has an overall muted quality yet finds surprising depth in its nearly silent subject matter. From the solitary mystery of "swimming underwater quiet" to the uneasiness of "top of the roller coaster quiet," the book conveys a wealth of emotion in life's less in-your-face moments.

  • City Dog, Country Frog

    Mo Willems, illus. by Jon J Muth (Hyperion)

    Expectations are understandably high for a superstar pairing like this, and Willems and Muth more than deliver with an understated story of friendship between a dog and a frog that unfolds across the four seasons. The idea that the seasons (and life) inevitably end is counterbalanced by the subtle humor evident in both text and paintings, as well as the promise of a new friendship when spring returns.

  • Knuffle Bunny Free

    Mo Willems (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray)

    Willems's conclusion to his Knuffle Bunny trio is as heartfelt and emotionally true as its predecessors, bringing Trixie's relationship with her stuffed rabbit to a moving conclusion that feels inevitable in the best of ways. Willems writes with respect, honesty, and empathy for Trixie, as her inner confidence (very) gradually takes the place of the external comfort Knuffle Bunny has unfailingly provided.

  • Art and Max

    David Wiesner (Clarion)

    Although three-time Caldecott–winner Wiesner's latest can be read simply (and enjoyably) as the story of the Odd Couple–style friendship between two lizards, it's as much a meditation on the nature of art (aided in no small way by the fact that one lizard is named Art). Their adventure in painting takes turns both surreal and slapstick, matching plentiful laughs with contemplative insights about friendship, creativity, and identity.

  • Ship Breaker

    Paolo Bacigalupi (Little, Brown)

    Set in a grim near-future, Bacigalupi's YA debut is an action-packed, frighteningly believable story of class warfare set on the ecologically wrecked Gulf of Mexico coast. Bacigalupi's world-building is exceptional, as his protagonist, Nailer, learns uncomfortable truths about a world that has already dealt him a difficult hand.

  • Cosmic

    Frank Cottrell Boyce (HarperCollins/Walden Pond)

    In a story that's equal parts Willy Wonka and Big, Boyce offers a hilarious yet moving exploration of what it means to be a man and, in particular, a dad (whether on Earth or in outer space). Twelve-year-old Liam's extraterrestrial journey, as he masquerades as a friend's father, will have kids rethinking the notion that adulthood is a breeze.

  • Mockingjay

    Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)

    Collins brings to a close a trilogy that captured the hearts and spirits of teenagers and adults alike, while inspiring the current craze for dystopian fiction. While readers might not be ready to say good-bye to Katniss Everdeen and the Hunger Games, Collins does so with grace and an ending that's heartrending yet completely satisfying.

  • Matched

    Ally Condie (Dutton)

    In this dystopian romance, debut author Condie crafts a cerebral society in which individual choice has all but ceased to exist, and exposes the ugliness at its heart. With undercurrents of The Giver and Fahrenheit 451, this story of forbidden loves, long-lost poems, and a teenager's desperation to break free and think for herself will leave readers hungry for the planned sequels.

  • Bink and Gollie

    DiCamillo and McGhee, illus. by Fucile (Candlewick)

    DiCamillo, McGhee, and Fucile introduce two iconoclastic—and instantly iconic—heroines who turn striped socks, an imagined mountain-climbing expedition, and an "unremarkable" goldfish into friendship-testing (and strengthening) experiences. Bink and Gollie would call this trio of stories a "bonanza," and they'd be right.

  • Incarceron

    Catherine Fisher (Dial)

    Fisher's story of star-crossed romance flips between two worlds that aren't what they seem: the sentient prison known as Incarceron and the tech-phobic outside world that has reverted to a medieval way of life. Impeccably developed world-building and characters and powerful insights into freedom, history, and society at large make this a rewarding work of science fiction.

  • A Tale Dark and Grimm

    Adam Gidwitz (Dutton)

    Gidwitz debuts with a deliciously twisted reworking of Grimm's fairy tales that casts Hansel and Gretel in lead roles in several other stories, as they seek a perfect (or even just "nice") family. Quite gory and quite funny, Gidwitz's expertly engineered collection has heart, too, and is all but certain to reignite readers' interest in the source material.

  • Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same!

    Grace Lin (Little, Brown)

    Over the course of six blithe, slice-of-life stories, two Chinese-American twins demonstrate that while they share much, they are unquestionably individuals, too, despite the assumptions of others. The stories exude a timeless charm, and while twins will appreciate the validation, Ling and Ting's message will hit home with all children who have felt dismissed or misunderstood.

  • Finnikin of the Rock

    Melina Marchetta (Candlewick)

    Printz Award–winner Marchetta's epic is distinguished by flawed and endlessly surprising heroes, an atmospheric island setting, and a compelling quest to restore a desecrated kingdom to its former glory. Shot through with complexities, humor, and exquisitely crafted dialogue, interactions, and relationships, this is fantasy that succeeds on every level.

  • The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

    Geraldine McCaughrean (Harper)

    Populated with singular characters, McCaughrean's warm and exuberant adventure follows Pepper as he attempts to outrun the death he has been raised to believe awaits him on his 14th birthday. It's a massively enjoyable journey of mistaken identities, preposterous careers, unconventional friendships, and fortunes that turn on a dime.

  • Trash

    Andy Mulligan (Random/Fickling)

    A cinematic story of redemption set in an unnamed nation, Mulligan's debut novel rotates mainly among the perspectives of three boys who eke out a living picking through trash mounds, until a surprise discovery sets them on a path of moral quandaries and political corruption. The injustices that Mulligan depicts so starkly make the novel's triumphs all the sweeter.

  • Monsters of Men

    Patrick Ness (Candlewick)

    As brutal and provocative as its predecessors, Ness's conclusion to the Chaos Walking trilogy hits with the force of a concussive blast, as armies of terrorists, mass murderers, and subjugated aliens converge with Viola and Todd at the center of it all. Few books in recent memory have addressed issues of warfare, racism, misogyny, and human nature with such power.

  • Before I Fall

    Lauren Oliver (HarperTeen)

    If the plot of Oliver's debut novel suggests at first glance Groundhog Day (high school senior Samantha relives the day of her death again and again), it quickly becomes clear that this is a very different kind of story. Samantha's death may be inevitable, but the changes that result from her choices each day say so much about what it means to be alive.

  • Heart of a Samurai

    Margi Preus (Abrams/Amulet)

    Based on the life of Manjiro Nakahama, the first Japanese man to set foot on American shores, Preus's gripping historical fiction is an inspiring story of personal determination set against the hardships and prejudice of the mid-19th century. A superior mix of history, adventure, self-discovery, and personal triumph.

  • Octavia Boone's Big Questions About Life, the Universe, and Everything

    Rebecca Rupp (Candlewick)

    Rupp delivers a complex and nuanced story of a girl's search for faith and meaning, as seventh-grader Octavia uses science—and synesthesia—to try to understand her mother's decision to join a fundamentalist religious group, which causes the implosion of her family. With no easy answers and many flawed adult characters, it's a deeply honest yet sympathetic novel.

  • The Cardturner

    Louis Sachar (Delacorte)

    In Sachar's expert hands, what is perhaps the unlikeliest subject for a YA novel—the game of bridge—becomes the basis for a moving and humorous story about the testy relationship between narrator Alton and his eccentric, blind great-uncle. Parallels between the game and real-life human connections become clear, and Alton's growing respect for and fascination with the game will mirror that of readers.

  • Revolver

    Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)

    In a story as brutal and cold as its setting miles north of the Arctic Circle, Sedgwick tackles issues of violence, manhood, and morality. With both his parents dead and a threat to his life and that of his sister literally at the door, teenage Sig faces impossible choices in a historical thriller that holds readers with a viselike grip.

  • The Marbury Lens

    Andrew Smith (Feiwel and Friends)

    To say that Jack's world is turned upside down when a pair of glasses transports him to an alternate world doesn't do justice to the horrors he witnesses in Marbury, a twisted apocalyptic land with a very high body count. Jack's "real" life isn't so hot either, and the calamities that unfold in both places will be as unforgettable and traumatic for readers as they are for Jack.

  • The Last Summer of the Death Warriors

    Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic/Levine)

    Themes of vengeance, loss, and self-determination are woven through Stork's story of the friendship between orphan Pancho and terminally ill cancer patient D.Q. Pancho's emotional journey, from a place governed by the deaths of his father and sister to one where he can open up to D.Q. and others, is rewarding and deeply affecting.

  • Nothing

    Janne Teller (S&S/Atheneum)

    One boy's existential crisis and minor act of civil disobedience has profoundly disturbing consequences in Teller's story of peer pressure and the point at which civilized society breaks down. The escalation of Pierre's classmates' frustration and rage makes the story, which is evocative of Lord of the Flies, all the more believable and devastating.

  • Countdown

    Deborah Wiles (Scholastic Press)

    The Cuban missile crisis provides a tense backdrop for this moving story of innocence lost in 1960s Long Island; the changes happening on a national level mirror the small-scale turmoil in the family and social life of 11-year-old Franny. In tandem with Wiles's visceral prose, strong design elements—extensive photographs and other imagery—bring the setting to life.

  • One Crazy Summer

    Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad)

    With expert depictions of sisterly dynamics and the tumultuousness of the 1960s, Williams-Garcia offers the memorable tale of 11-year-old Delphine and her younger sisters, as they grow to understand their unconventional estranged mother better—with a little help from the Black Panthers. A vivid and highly relatable coming-of-age story.

  • They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group

    Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin)

    A powerful study of the development of the Ku Klux Klan, from its formation to the present day, Bartoletti's accessible and chilling work makes use of letters and other writings of some of the group's founders, as well as her own firsthand research, including a visit to a Klan gathering. A searing examination of fear, hate, violence, and an organization that, despite progress, persists to this day.

  • Sir Charlie: Chaplin, the Funniest Man in the World

    Sid Fleischman (Greenwillow)

    The late Fleischman's final gift to readers is a captivating and balanced portrait of film legend Chaplin, which celebrates his successes without glossing over his failings. Packed with period photographs, it's a biography that's as entertaining as it is informative—but who would expect any less from Fleisch-man?

  • The War to End All Wars: World War I

    Russell Freedman (Clarion)

    Freedman's hard-hitting account of WWI skirts none of the conflict's brutality, as major advancements in weaponry produced a war the likes of which the world had never seen. Photographs and quotations from combatants drive home the atrocities and the war's ramifications for future generations.

  • They Called Themselves the KKK

    Susan Campbell Bartoletti (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    A powerful study of the development of the Ku Klux Klan, from its formation to the present day, Bartoletti's accessible and chilling work makes use of letters and other writings of some of the group's founders, as well as her own firsthand research, including a visit to a Klan gathering. A searing examination of fear, hate, violence, and an organization that, despite progress, persists to this day.

  • Freedom

    Jonathan Franzen (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Did you know Jonathan Franzen has a new novel? He does. It's called Freedom, and it follows a Minnesota family whose problems, squabbles, and poor decisions encapsulate the very essence of what it means to have lived through the first decade of the 21st century. It's… a masterpiece.

  • Parrot & Olivier in America

    Peter Carey (Knopf)

    Olivier, a fictionalized and absolutely obnoxious riff on Alexis de Tocqueville, contends with Parrot, a cunning servant dispatched to spy on Olivier by Olivier's mother, as the two journey across early 19th-century America. In this vast picaresque, Carey finds, via a snobbish Frenchman and an earthy Brit, a truly American story.

  • The Privileges

    Jonathan Dee (Random House)

    Dee again turns a gimlet eye on the way we live now, offering a churning story of greed, risk, danger, and financial industry chicanery set amid the foibles of a rabidly ambitious Manhattan family. Think: Bonfire of the Vanities, updated, hipper, and stripped to the bone.

  • Tutankhamun

    Nick Drake (Harper)

    Drake easily injects a serial killer plot into the middle book of his Ancient Egyptian trilogy while vividly evoking the reign of the boy king Tutankhamun.

  • Extraordinary Renditions

    Andrew Ervin (Coffee House)

    Modern Budapest comes to life in three linked novellas with characters that cover the spectrum from a concentration camp survivor who returns for the premiere of his opera to a black American G.I. forced into gun running by his unscrupulous commander.

  • Faithful Place

    Tana French (Viking)

    Suspense blends with family demons in French's meticulous crime novel about a cop's quest for the truth behind the disappearance of the young Dublin woman he was planning to elope with 22 years earlier.

  • To the End of the Land

    David Grossman, Jessica Cohen (Knopf)

    Grossman's epic masterwork maps the long, dark shadow war has cast over an Israeli family. From domestic disruption to harrowing violence, this unflinching account is devastating and seductive.

  • The Four Stages of Cruelty

    Keith Hollihan (St. Martin's/Dunne)

    Hollihan combines a labyrinthine plot with a nuanced, character-driven narrative that provides insights into prison life in his impressive debut.

  • Father of the Rain

    Lily King (Grove)

    King's intense family drama coincides with the demise of Waspdom and exposes the thrill and despair of an alcoholic, charismatic father who is wildly entertaining to a child but difficult to deal with as an adult.

  • Our Kind of Traitor

    John le Carré (Viking)

    Those who have found post-cold war le Carré too cerebral will welcome this Russian mafia spy thriller involving an English couple on holiday in the Caribbean.

  • Beneath the Lion's Gaze

    Maaza Mengiste (Norton)

    African novelists have been taking center stage, and Mengiste's debut marks her as one to watch. Ethiopia from the fall of Haile Selassie through the dark '70s of Derge rule is her setting as a family struggles to maintain its humanity.

  • Unbroken

    Laura Hillenbrand (Random)

    Readers of this soul-stirring narrative will never forget Louis Zamperini, who after a career as a runner served in WWII only to be captured and held prisoner by the Japanese; a more horrific internment would be difficult to imagine. Zamperini's physical and spiritual sufferings both during and after WWII and his coming out the other side become the story of a true American hero from that greatest generation.

  • How to Read the Air

    Dinaw Mengestu (Riverhead)

    Mengestu sticks to familiar territory in his soulful second novel, but here brings an intriguing formal rigor to the tale. Jonas Woldemariam retraces a brief road trip that his parents, both Ethiopian immigrants, took 30 years before, compelling him to distort the truth about not only their lives, but his own, in ever more complicated ways.

  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

    David Mitchell (Random House)

    Mitchell goes straightup historical in this majestic account of a young Dutch East Indies clerk's time in the trading port of Dejima, in turn-of-the-19th-century Japan.

  • Sourland

    Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco)

    Yes, we suspect there are really three separate writers producing the endless stream of prose: Joyce, Carol, and Oates. Here, Oates takes it to the edge, bringing her recurring themes of violence and desire to terrifying fruition. Widows figure prominently, as do children, and everyone's in trouble.

  • Years of Red Dust

    Qiu Xiaolong (St. Martin's/Dunne)

    This collection of linked short stories from the author of The Mao Case and five other Inspector Chen novels charts the political changes in China under Communist rule through the eyes of the inhabitants of Shanghai's Red Dust Lane.

  • The Imperfectionists

    Tom Rachmann (Dial)

    The ragtag staff of a dying English language daily newspaper in Rome provide a memorable cross-section of experience, failure, expectation, and perilous aspiration. It's also a magnificent paean to that increasingly endangered species: the printed newspaper.

  • Invisible Boy

    Cornelia Read (Grand Central)

    Acid-tongued ex-socialite Madeline Dare uncovers a child's skeleton in Queens' Prospect Cemetery in a crime novel that exposes undertones of racism and classism in New York City's justice system.

  • Vestments

    John Reimringer (Milkweed)

    This sensitive and searching debut confronts the conflicts of a newly ordained young priest from a family whose men "have always loved strong drink and a good fight," torn between his desire for spirituality and the temptations of the flesh.

  • Innocent

    Scott Turow (Grand Central)

    Twenty-two years after the events in Presumed Innocent, former lawyer Rusty Sabich once again faces a murder charge in a novel that rates as a worthy successor to that memorable debut.

  • Self-Portraits

    Frederic Tuten (Norton)

    For 40 years, since his early postmodernist stunner, The Adventures of Mao on the Long March, Tuten has reworked the shape and consistency of the novel. In this one, Tuten, now 74, turns self-ward. The result: magical Calvino-like tales both revealing and uncompromising, as the author's energy for invention trumps nostalgia while ennobling it.

  • Agaat

    Marlene van Niekerk, trans. by Michiel H (Tin House)

    South African van Niekerk takes readers into the muck of her homeland's complicated history of race relations via the perspective of a dying woman whose only companion is her black servant.

  • The Pregnant Widow

    Martin Amis (Knopf)

    Amis propels a very Martin Amis-like Keith Nearing through a summer of poolside torment-sexual, psychological, literary-in 1968 Italy. This dark drawing-room comedy is a showcase of Amis's ability to make the English language bend to his whims.

  • The Surrendered

    Chang-Rae Lee (Riverhead)

    Grim, but so is Dostoyevski. Lee, who can craft a sentence, follows several decades in the lives of an American soldier and a Korean orphan whose paths cross during the Korean War, the reverberations of which, Lee shows, are now deeply woven into the fabric of what it means to be American.

  • Nox

    Anne Carson (New Directions)

    This is a fold-out replication, a kind of scroll, of the handmade notebook that Carson made to mourn her brother's death.

  • The Eternal City

    Kathleen Graber (Princeton)

    Graber is the kind of poet who thinks out loud. What may at first seem like casual conversation with the self, however, turns out to be deep philosophical thinking.

  • By the Numbers

    James Richardson (Copper Canyon)

    Richardson is the best aphorist writing in English, and he's a hell of a poet, too. Both forms are represented in this wonderful book.

  • Wait

    C.K. Williams (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

    Fear of death has sent some lightning through veteran poet Williams's poems. These are urgent remembrances of a life's regrets and what hopes still survive into old age.

  • Come On All You Ghosts

    Matthew Zapruder (Copper Canyon)

    Zapruder's third book mixes the kind of hip swagger he's known for with an increasingly earnest engagement with the people and things he loves.

  • The Man with the Baltic Stare

    James Church (Minotaur)

    Church audaciously sets his fourth Inspector O novel in 2016, when O must investigate a Macao prostitute's murder linked to the young man being groomed as the future leader of North Korea.

  • Love Songs from a Shallow Grave

    Colin Cotterill (Soho Crime)

    The murders of three women, each with a dueling sword, preoccupy 73-year-old Laotian coroner Siri Paiboun in a mystery that has it all-a heroic protagonist, a challenging puzzle, and an exotic setting.

  • Bleed a River Deep

    Brian McGilloway (Minotaur)

    Despite being suspended from the Garda for failing to prevent what could have been the fatal shooting of a visiting former U.S. senator, Irish Inspector Devlin persists in looking into a bank heist and other crimes in a mystery that explores the underside of the "Celtic Tiger."

  • Bury Your Dead

    Louise Penny (Minotaur)

    Penny's gift for displaying heartbreak and hope in the same scene is just one of the many strengths of her sixth traditional mystery to feature French-Canadian Chief Insp. Armand Gamache.

  • The Insane Train

    Sheldon Russell (Minotaur)

    Railroad security agent Hook Runyon must help transport a trainload of dangerous mental patients from California to Oklahoma in a rough-edged 1940s historical that evokes both Chandler and Hammett.

  • The Big Short

    Michael Lewis (Norton)

    Lewis has written the briskest and brightest analysis of the crash of 2008. Other books might provide a more exhaustive account of what went wrong, but Lewis's character-driven narrative reveals the how and why with peerless clarity and panache. When will they ever learn?

  • The Red Door

    Charles Todd (Morrow)

    Scotland Yard inspector Ian Rutledge, a shell-shocked WWI veteran, looks into a missing missionary and a bludgeoning murder in a mystery that offers a tricky puzzle and incisive character portraits.

  • The Forbidden Rose

    Joanna Bourne (Berkley Sensation)

    In mid-revolution France, a noblewoman and a spy are torn between wartime practicality and headstrong passion. The gripping espionage story and wry voiceovers from the heroine will win hearts.

  • The Iron Duke

    Meljean Brook (Berkley)

    Brook's fabulous steampunk tale has an iron-boned war hero and a half-Asian detective inspector matching wits and wills on airships and battleships and in smoke-choked London as England recovers from 200 years of Mongol rule.

  • The Heir

    Grace Burrowes (Sourcebooks Casablanca)

    Burrowes pulls off an improbable Regency affair between a spoiled ducal heir and a housekeeper with a secret.

  • Barely a Lady

    Eileen Dreyer (Grand Central/Forever)

    The wartime amnesia romance is as old as the hills, but RWA Hall of Famer Dreyer (aka Kathleen Korbel) makes this one work.

  • Trial by Desire

    Courtney Milan (HQN)

    Modern readers will be as intrigued by the Victorian-era political issues as they are by the central story of a man trying to reconnect with the wife he abandoned.

  • The Bone Palace

    Amanda Downum (Orbit)

    Deadly power games play out in haunted royal palaces, streets thronged with sex workers and political protesters, and sewers inhabited by seductive, amoral vampires.

  • Feed

    Mira Grant (Orbit)

    Grant (a pseudonym for urban fantasist Seanan McGuire) hits hard in a brutal tale of three bloggers following a Republican presidential candidate through the zombie-infested Midwest.

  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms/The Broken Kingdoms

    N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

    These searing novels relate the struggles of ordinary people caught up in the machinations of gods at a time of global change when faith, power structures, and the fabric of reality have been called into question.

  • Who Fears Death

    Nnedi Okorafor (DAW)

    Young adult author Okorafor makes a blazing entrance onto the adult fiction scene with a story of love, pain, magic, and genocide in postapocalyptic Saharan Africa. Readers will be enthralled by troubled, fierce adolescent Onyesonwu and her quest to find and destroy the sorcerer who fathered her.

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

    Rebecca Skloot (Crown)

    Medical history is grippingly told through the life of one African-American woman and her family, which begins at the "colored" ward at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s. Skloot, who hit the road in her beatup old car to relentlessly follow this story, explores issues of race, poverty, the ethics of medical research and its sometimes tragic, unintended consequences.

  • A Special Place: The Heart of a Dark Matter

    Peter Straub (Pegasus)

    This exquisitely horrifying outtake from A Dark Matter depicts a young psychopath's first steps along the path of becoming a serial killer. Straub drags the reader into the dark interstices of a deeply troubled mind, where brutality and murder seem only natural and right.

  • X'Ed Out

    Charles Burns (Pantheon)

    The adventures of Tintin get a dark mirror image as a young man named Doug suffers teenage angst and a hostile universe of talking maggots.

  • Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites

    Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson (Dark Horse)

    Gorgeous artwork and a smart, witty script elevate this tale of household pets who unite to fight occult menaces in idyllic Burden Hill.

  • How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

    Sarah Glidden (Vertigo)

    An evocative, sometimes funny and often emotional recap of Glidden's birthright visit to Israel done with charming watercolors and no shortage of candid responses to the Jewish state and the Palestinian question.

  • Duncan the Wonder Dog

    Adam Hines (AdHouse Books)

    A powerfully imagined and visually detailed experimental work set in an otherwise naturalistic world where animals can speak and argue the moral consequences of their treatment by humans.

  • Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

    G. Neri and Randy DuBurke (Lee & Low)

    A powerfully imagined and visually detailed experimental work set in an otherwise naturalistic world where animals can speak and argue the moral consequences of their treatment by humans.

  • Batwoman: Elegy

    Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams (DC)

    A crazy-intense achievement of spectacular artwork tells the story of Kate Kane, a gay former Marine who must save Gotham City from a crime-worshipping cult.

  • Bodyworld

    Dash Shaw (Pantheon)

    A goofy yet gorgeously rendered, relentlessly experimental mashup of the high school sports hero and psychedelic drug novel genres that quite literally turns the book on its head.

  • Acme Novelty Library: Lint

    F.C. Ware (Drawn & Quarterly)

    Using an inventive and ever-evolving visual syntax, Ware chronicles the life of a difficult and flawed character from his birth to his death.

  • AX: Alternative Manga

    Sean Michael Wilson and Mitsuhiru Asakaw (Top Shelf)

    More like American indie comics than mainstream manga, this anthology of 33 artists from Japan's acclaimed magazine on alternative manga opens a new window on Japanese comics.

  • Just Kids

    Patti Smith (Ecco)

    Smith's beautifully crafted love letter to her friend Robert Mapplethorpe functions as a memento mori of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing. Her elegant eulogy lays bare the chaos and the creativity so embedded in that earlier time and in Mapplethorpe's life and work.

  • Weathercraft: A Frank Comic

    Jim Woodring (Fantagraphics)

    A disturbing fantasy of struggle from comics' premiere surrealist as the piglike Manhog endures the sufferings of Job from the cruel Whim.

  • The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them

    Elif Batuman (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Batuman displays a fresh, quirky, voice in this account of her love affair with Russian literature and her travels through the former Soviet Union.

  • Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship

    Gail Caldwell (Random)

    In this quiet, fierce work, Caldwell creates a memorable offering of love to her best friend, the writer Caroline Knapp, who died in 2002. Caldwell is unflinching in depicting her friend's last days, and writes of this desolating time with moving grace.

  • Composed: A Memoir

    Rosanne Cash (Viking)

    This work is a rare treat, since Cash, first-born of country music legend Johnny Cash, is not only a hereditary celebrity musician, having made scores of albums and #1 singles, but a terrific writer.

  • Washington: A Life

    Ron Chernow (Penguin Press)

    Chernow is back with another epic examination of another influential American founder. Thanks to a recent "explosion of research," Chernow produces the most complete and complex portrait of George Washington on record.

  • About a Mountain

    John D'Agata (Norton)

    D'Agata, after moving his mother to Las Vegas, becomes haunted by a proposed plan to house nuclear waste in a nearby mountain and by the suicide of a local boy. A genre-busting disquisition on place, consciousness, and culpability.

  • Travels in Siberia

    Ian Frazier (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Drawn to what he calls "the incomplete grandiosity of Russia," Frazier combines the personal travelogue with in-depth history and gives readers a firsthand account of a place that calls up, for many, the terrifying unknown.

  • The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

    David V. Herlihy (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

    Set in the 1880s during the American cycling craze, this lively story follows cyclist-adventurer William Sachteleben as he retraces the path of Franz Lenz, a man whose attempt to cycle around the world ended with his disappearance near Turkey.

  • Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet

    Jennifer Homans (Random)

    In an important and groundbreaking work of dance history, Homans restores ballet to its rightful place among the performing arts.

  • Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia

    Michael Korda (Harper)

    This biography of British soldier and adventurer T.E. Lawrence celebrates a life spent subverting authority in the most glamorous-and bizarre-ways.

  • Man in the Woods

    Scott Spencer (Ecco)

    A man and a dog in Spencer's adroit hands adds up to one stunning story. Spencer says he likes to put his characters in situations and "turn up the heat." Here his well-meaning, easygoing protagonist lands in the third circle of hell, with his whole life in jeopardy, after a chance encounter at a highway rest stop. Exciting, thoughtful, compelling: you won't want to put it down and you won't want it to end.

  • The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood

    Jane Leavy (Harper)

    With storytelling bravado and fresh research, Leavy weaves around her own story the milestone dates in the Mick's career. In Leavy's hands, the life of Mantle no longer defies logic: it seems inevitable.

  • Colonel Roosevelt

    Edmund Morris (Random)

    Morris's concluding volume in his accomplished biography narrates Roosevelt's postpresidential life with the same insight and style he displayed in his Pulitzer-winning first volume.

  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

    Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner)

    Mukherjee's sweeping account of the long war on cancer pits an army of dedicated doctors and scientists, impassioned activists and courageous patients against a wily enemy whose secrets are at last being uncovered.

  • The Grace of Silence: A Memoir

    Michele Norris (Pantheon)

    In this eloquent and affecting memoir on race, Norris, cohost of NPR's All Things Considered, examines her childhood growing up in Minneapolis, as well as her family's Alabama roots and secrets.

  • Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed

    Judy Pasternak (Free Press)

    An unforgettable exposé of a sorrowful-and unresolved-chapter in American history: how uranium mining on Native American territory in the 1970s has led to horrifying cancer rates and birth defects among four generations of Navajos-and how the U.S. government (who funded the mining) long abdicated responsibility.

  • Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran-A Journey Behind the Headlines

    Scott Peterson (Simon & Schuster)

    A veteran reporter on the region brings us the best account we have of Iran-its rich history, artistic legacies, profound internal contradictions-in a copious, balanced, and readable narrative.

  • Listen to This

    Alex Ross (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Music critic Ross utilizes a wide musical scale-classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Björk, Kiki and Herb-as a way of understanding the world.

  • Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error

    Kathryn Schulz (Ecco)

    A mirthful and wise diagnosis of what ails us: Schulz dances us through science, psychology, and literature in a sparkling history of (and ode to) human error.

  • Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare?

    James Shapiro (Simon & Schuster)

    Shapiro looks at why people believe Shakespeare was not Shakespeare, while delivering up sly portraits of self-delusion and how not to read great literature.

  • Bomber County: The Poetry of a Lost Pilot's War

    Daniel Swift (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Swift tells the story of his grandfather, an RAF bomber pilot shot down in 1943, washed up on a beach, and buried twice, as a way to examine the iconography of war and the popular notion that WWII failed to produce great poetry.

  • The Lonely Polygamist

    Brady Udall (Norton)

    Golden Richards, a fundamentalist Mormon with four wives and 28 children, flirts with infidelity in this tragicomic family saga with a cast of flawed, perfectly realized characters. Don't mistake this for the Great American Mormon Novel-it could just be the Great American Novel of the year.

  • Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. I

    Mark Twain (Univ. of California)

    The great American humorist is his own best character in this first volume of his unexpurgated autobiography that doubles as a razor-sharp portrait of the human comedy.

  • The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival

    John Vaillant (Knopf)

    When a Siberian tiger begins attacking hunters with a savagery that seems personal, Vaillant launches a thrilling investigation into the conflict between man and nature, and life in post-perestroika Russia.

  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the American Woman

    Sam Wasson (HarperStudio)

    Wasson highlights Blake Edwards's memorable Breakfast at Tiffany's, recapturing the era's sexual ploitics, fashion, and Hollywood glamour.

  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires

    Tim Wu (Knopf)

    Wu dazzles in his history-cum-manifesto as he reveals how fiercely corporate empires have vied to control communication and information technology-and why we must keep the Internet free and open.

  • Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion

    Gregory Boyle (Free Press)

    In this surprisingly jubilant and spiritually acute memoir, Boyle writes about difficult social and spiritual work on the streets of Los Angeles that has changed, and saved, the lives of gang members.

  • Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India

    William Dalrymple (Knopf)

    Through keen observation and adroit focus, Dalrymple conveys the contradictions of modern India, where deeply rooted and diverse religious practice is of a piece with modern economic life.

  • Fishers of Men: The Gospel of an Ayahuasca Vision Quest

    Adam Elenbaas (Penguin/Tarcher)

    Elenbaas writes with bravery, candor, and humility about mistakes, redemption, and growing up, sounding familiar and universal themes of families and striving and shortsightedness woven into a narrative about an exotic and unfamiliar quest.

  • The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam

    Eliza Griswold (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)

    Griswold's on-the-ground reporting ranges from Africa to Asia as she offers poetic and closely observed portraits of people who coexist in varied ways in the geographic area of the world where Christianity and Islam make headlines when they collide.

  • Hannah's Child

    Stanley Hauerwas (Eerdmans)

    The provocative theologian casts a characteristically thoughtful look back in an uncharacteristically self-revelatory way in a memoir that fulfills his mother's powerfully formative intention for her child to do service to God.

  • Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years

    Diarmaid McCulloch (Viking)

    Historian McCulloch's ambitious book covers the historic length and geographical and theological breadth of the multiple-millennia-old Christian waterfront in an elegantly written way.

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